Businesses can come out stronger after corona crisis
But they have to adapt themselves to changing trends, innovate
The Charminar monument in Hyderabad was built in 1591 AD by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shahi to celebrate the fight against a deadly plague of those years. It is said that he had prayed for the end of the fatal epidemic and vowed to build a mosque on success. There was an added benefit of starting this project. A lot of men were put back to work, which in turn helped the economy get a jump start.
Whenever a crisis presents itself on a global scale, there are generally three ways to respond. One way is where you are under the fear of the moment and panic; the second way is where you seriously work on preparing yourself and your people to take it head-on. There is a third way where you plan on how to operate after the impact of the crisis.
The Covid-19 global epidemic has been harrowing and sad for all of us. Society is seeing citizens fall sick and lots of deaths, healthcare infrastructure bursting at the seams, jobs lost, bankruptcies, bailouts by nations in trillions and stock markets crashing. The way we live and conduct business will change in a big way after all this. All of us are seeing once in a lifetime pandemic, and it shakes us up significantly.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, there is certainly a different angle to look at this. In just a matter of weeks, citizens of the world have become accustomed to wearing masks, stocking up on essentials, cancelling social and business gatherings, scrapping travel plans and working from home. These habits will endure even after the virus lockdowns ease.
One good outcome of this unfortunate crisis is our journey to digital way has been fast-tracked. Simple and digital are the essential ingredients of the customer experience that businesses today need to offer. And in some industries, even to survive. Incremental improvements will not cut it. Companies must jump years in a matter of months to provide digital experiences that are easy, intuitive and reliable.
With these in mind, one can foresee a few trends that may emerge after this crisis.
TREND 1: HEALTH and HEALTHCARE
Governments will spend much more on health care industry to avoid the massive cost associated with epidemics. Spending from public resources for health and related services will jump phenomenally. For instance, the US government has already sanctioned more than $2 trillion to fight the outbreak. The industry is aggressively adopting a modern service outlook and sophisticated tools and technologies that go with it.
Some of the areas include:
• Progressive real-time communication, coordination and collaboration tools for healthcare
• Telehealth and telemedicine
• Remote clinical observation and disease management
• Self-service diagnostics and self-care
• Medical intervention by exception
• Predictive analytics and knowledge management
• Ubiquitous medical care access
TREND 2: ONLINE EDUCATION
We have thousands of students at home today, with no structured programme to remotely attend classes in the college and learn. The technology exists; programmes like Khan Academy have been around for more than a decade. However, there is no standardized system of online learning on a large scale. This is the time to implement these systems across our education institutions nationally. The current crisis demands that it be implemented very soon.
It is also an excellent time to look at how we, as a nation, educate our next generation. The new tools allow students to learn at their own pace. Educators can leverage it. Another critical point is that we can enable the system to develop curiosity and creativity amongst the students as opposed to rote learning of the past. The idea is to build their interest and lay emphasis on the right questions to ask. This will be the perfect time to digitize and democratize education.
TREND 3: DIGITAL COMMERCE
New shopping behaviour is beginning to evolve globally. Latest statistics show that consumers are starting to pay more attention to marketing messages, including email, mobile and social ads. They have begun to browse and buy more online. If this trend continues, almost 40 per cent people will do their shopping online. Offline distribution, offline store, shopping malls and such will see increased pressure on sales and profitability.
Consumers are more likely to be more germ cautious than ever before. Non-touch deliveries may become the new normal. Ecommerce players like Amazon, Flipkart and others will continue to see growth in their business. Delivery companies will need to relook at their service levels and cater to the new hygienic market demand.
TREND 4: CONTENT AND GAMES
Overall the digital media consumption and online usage have jumped significantly worldwide. Consumers are looking for crisis information or watching content. They are visiting premium publishers like CNN, Fox, Netflix, Amazon, more than the smaller sites. Instead of the usual media spikes during commuting or meal hours, there is a flat rate of consumption throughout the day.
Content verticals which are seeing a massive surge of users are:
• Home & Lifestyle
• Business & Finance;
• Investing & Careers
• Entertainment; Games, TV, Movies, Music, Books
• Health & Fitness
TREND 5: REMOTE WORKING
Businesses across the world are implementing travel restrictions, work from home (WFH) and remote learning policies. Robust and user-friendly communication tools that enable remote work and learning have taken centre stage. Video conferencing and group chats are overloaded now. This epidemic will have a lasting impact on how organizations view remote work - Bringing about a massive change in the business collaboration industry forever. Guidelines are being laid out by health and government agencies, and many businesses are rolling out mandatory WFH.
The technology and usability improvements that collaboration tools have seen over the last few years are coming handy, just as the world needs them the most. Players such as 8x8, Amazon Chime, AT&T, Avaya Spaces, Bluejeans, CafeX, Cisco Webex, Google Hangouts Meet, Lifesize, LogMeIn GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, PGi, RingCentral, Slack, and Zoom are among the many providers that offer the platforms.
This roster of vendors is only expected to grow with time. For instance, the number of monthly downloads of Zoom shot up from 90,000 to 340,000 in March 2020. Out of the blue, Zoom has now become a mainstream communications tool as well as a social platform for millions, including school and college students, church and concert-goers, and families and friends looking to connect amid social distancing.
TREND 6: IMPROVED SUPPLY CHAIN
Many companies across the world are rethinking their supply chain model forced by the black swan event of COVID-19. It has taught them a valuable lesson: They should stop relying on a single overseas supplier for the company's products. And it makes more sense to have a supplier or two locally, or at least in a less dominating country than say, China? It presents a unique opportunity for the manufacturing industry in India. All these years, our players complained about the dominance of Chinese manufacturers. Here is their chance to become a significant player on a global scale.
The above trends are just a few directions that seem to be forming now. There will be a lot more trends that will emerge in the coming months. There will be further opportunities for innovation. The world beyond the crisis will never revert to the 2019 reality - attitudes, behaviours and needs will change. The best way for businesses to take advantage of them is to keep an open mind and agile team.
(The author is Chairman and CEO of Hyderabad-based Brightcom Group)